by Kathy Krajco
Projection is a new name for an old thing, scapegoating. In this section I just explain it in general terms, with examples. In the next section, we zero-in on how narcissists project and what is unique about the way they do it.
Projection. We find it everywhere. Which should be no surprise. It’s actually the oldest trick in The Book. Really. The Serpent pulled it on Eve in the Book of Genesis when, in the very act of lying to Eve, he accused God of being the liar.
Here’s how the story goes. The serpent had just suggested that Eve eat the Forbidden Fruit, and she replied that God told them not to because eating it would bring about their fall. The cunning serpent said, “God told you THAT?”
Slick, eh? In the very act of telling a whopper, the sneaky snake left-handedly called God a liar, through the power of suggestion. Thus the Prince of Lies pulled an identity-switch with God.
Moses ritualized a demonstration of projection in the Book of Leviticus as the prescribed rite for the annual Day of Atonement.
In this “atonement” ritual, all the people had to come forward, one by one, and make the scapegoat (a perfect yearling firstborn male to represent someone unblemished and with great potential) take their sins away from them and onto himself. How did they do this? By accusing him of their sins and laying the blame on his head. Then they had to purge themselves of him and make him atone for their sins. How did they do that? By chasing him away into the desert until he gave up trying to follow them back home, and then deserting him there. Which was the sentence worse than death = doom, because he would slowly die of thirst.
One hardly thinks they enjoyed doing this. Would you?
Wouldn’t you instead get Moses’ message? More powerful than a sermon, eh? Wouldn’t you hang your head a little, thinking, “Jeez, are we that transparent?”
But never underestimate willful obtuseness’ power to get things exactly backwards. Soon, people had done just that. Instead of being duly shamed by this ritual reenactment of how they “cleansed” and “saved” themselves (from justice) by scapegoating those who have the most to lose and are the least deserving, they decided that this ritual meant that this despicable behavior is the right thing to do! the way to cleanse yourself of sin!
They didn’t get it later, either, when John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth came along and said: “Read our lips: To cleanse yourselves of your sins, don’t punish an innocent scapegoat for them! Just R-E-F-O-R-M. Too complex?”
People still managed to just anti-get the message yet again, deciding that this meant they should graduate from animals and sacrifice these two men as the scapegoats to die for/of (in scripture you have this double entente, because the word used can mean either for or of) their sins.
So, then St. Paul gave it a shot. He really tried to make people see that they’d better quit acting stupid and projecting, instead of repenting, their sins. In his letter to the Romans, he basically put it in the plainest terms possible — those of a threat that asked, “Just whom do you think you’re fooling?”
You — who steal — preach that other people should stop stealing. You — who commit adultery — preach that others should stop committing adultery. You — who commit sacrilege — preach that others should stop being idolaters. — Letter to the Romans, Chapter 2, verses 21-22
How’s that for letting the self-righteous know that you know all their finger pointing is just projection/scapegoating?
Ah, but obtuseness is invincible, and twisted thinking can make black white. So, again this simple message went in one ear and out the other. All three peoples of that Book (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) still got it exactly backwards. They all say that the blood of the innocent victim on them “cleanses” them of their sins.
Projection. We see it everywhere. It’s a kind of baptism = a mud bath people give their betters, by rubbing themselves off on them. Here’s how it works.
Got a guilty conscience? If so, you’ve certainly been tempted to say to yourself, “I’m not so bad.” To prove that, you must look around for an example of someone who’s worse. Then you can say to yourself, “Aha! I’m not as bad as So-and-So.”
But guess what? You didn’t pick a So-and-So who really has that fault and has it worse than you. You picked someone with very little mud on his name, someone who looks cleaner than you, if possible, someone who has the corresponding virtue instead of that fault.
We’re all tempted to pull this stunt. Some of us do, and some of us don’t.
For example: If you’re stingy, look for someone with a reputation for generosity, because generosity in your neighbor puts your stinginess to shame by serving as a foil that (by contrast) makes your stinginess more noticeable. Then smear your vice off on him. Tell everybody that he’s stingy. Make everything he does sound stingy.
Thus you kill two birds with one stone: you rid yourself of your stinginess and him of his generosity.
Not. But looks are everything, and Truth doesn’t matter, and this fraud makes you look good by comparison with him. Ah, cheating is much easier than freeing yourself of sin the legitimate way, by repentance.
You can see why narcissists highly prize this device called “projection” and become expert in it.
Projection. We see it everywhere. For example, guess who’s favorite portrayal of the President of the United States is as “a Hitler” or “even worse than Hitler?” You guessed it, the Germans. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder did it in campaign speeches to turn the tide and get elected. And guess whose favorite and constant characterization of Americans is as “arrogant?” You guessed it, the French. Projection.
Once you catch on to projection, you do recognize it in a vast amount of the badmouthing you hear.
Magicians call this trick “misdirection.” With one hand magicians misdirect our attention so we don’t see what they’re doing with their other hand.
Finger-pointers do the same thing. They direct people’s attention (critical attention, negative attention) away from themselves and what they’re doing by accusing someone else of doing the same, or essentially the same, thing. Thus they make themselves seem like people who never would dream of doing such a thing themselves — while in the very act of doing it.
Pointing the finger at others is a red flag of malignant narcissism.
The worst examples of this that I personally know of happened in schools. In one case, a teacher (a malignant narcissist in a private school) took indecent liberties with, and sexually abused, pubescent boys he lured into his home while his wife was at work on the night shift. It was later discovered that many people knew that he invited boys to his home on Friday nights. But nobody had seen anything wrong with that. Over time, many school employees had caught him in his classroom alone with a boy — behind a closed, sometimes locked, door and in the back where neither could be seen from hall. Nobody had seen anything suspicious in that. Many people knew this teacher had an explosive temper that he often had to make excuses to a berated student for, but nobody had seen anything abnormal in that. In fact nobody saw anything inappropriate in the inappropriately patronizing and intimate relationship he had with his students. Even when it came between them and their parents.
And nobody thought anything of it when, every few years, he seized any opening in a conversation to pop off with “What? Are you the only one around here who doesn’t know? He likes boys,” referring to some unmarried teacher. One unmarried teacher after another.
Thus he play-acted the part of his anti-type, a man who was abhorred by homosexual child abuse = certainly NOT the type who might do such a thing himself. Though people saw plenty to view with suspicion in that unmarried teacher, nobody saw anything suspicious in the accuser failing to cite any evidence or report these allegations he was so sure of.
They didn’t even see anything suspicious in the accuser glomping onto that unmarried teacher to become his best friend. Even when his doing this became a glaring pattern.
Indeed, every single unmarried teacher who came to that school got assassinated by this, his best friend. And nobody thought anything of it! Satan polished his halo by being a pillar of his parish, a lector and lay communion distributor. And he got away with this for over fifteen years.
A serial killer is less cruel. He doesn’t betray a sacred trust by doing it to people who have every good reason to trust him. And even if he tortures them, he doesn’t doom his victims to a life-sentence of torture in Hell.
Notice that the “innocent” people he fooled ain’t innocent. They committed the Original Sin, believing an obvious lie just because it was juicy. Like Eve.
To wit: It flew in the face of reason for her to think God might be lying. He was her creator. He provided everything for her and Adam. Which means that he had proved he wanted what was good them. He denied them but one thing, telling them that it was for their own good. So, what was she thinking? She had every good reason to believe that he was telling the truth.
Moreover, what credibility is there in a stranger who slithers up to you like a sidewinder? Why not doubt the serpent — someone she had no reason to trust?
Bottom Line: God has high credibility; serpent has about zero credibility. So, Eve wasn’t honestly fooled: she just liked serpent’s version of the world better, because it made her able to be as God. Adam’s reason for swallowing the lie was even worse: he just did it to agree with Eve.
In other words, to please her he prostituted his mind to her. And thus political correctness was born.
Narcissists and political character assassins are dangerous precisely because people do this. If, say, you have known someone for 10 years, you know a lot about him. Doubtless, you have seen his honesty tested and seen that he proved to be an honest man. So, nobody should be able to slither up to you tomorrow and tell you he’s dishonest. If you buy that, you are betraying that honest man. To believe that lie, you must annihilate history and 10 years of evidence to the contrary. You are not innocent.
Here’s an example of the finger-pointer being guilty of the moral equivalent: Mr. Self-Righteous union-busts to keep the workers in his shoe factory so poor they go barefoot — and shows moral indignation in loudly condemning his neighbor for “muzzling an ox trampling the grain.” He gets all fuzzy looking if you try to explain to him that he’s doing the same thing, only worse. That’s because he views rules, not as guidelines to be followed, but rather as red lines to catch other people with one toe over so he can condemn them. So he ignores the spirit of the law and obsesses over the letter of it.
Here’s another example of projection that camouflages guilt for the moral equivalent. It also shows that even religious institutions are guilty of projection to polish their image.
The Catholic Church points the finger at mothers who have abortions, saying, “What kind of mother does that?” Okay, that position on the issue is reasonable, and it is the type of thing religion is expected to express its opinion on. But why does the Church harp on abortion when it has so little to say about countless other issues?
What issues? Well, for example, why don’t we hear the Church crying out against Catholic dictators who mass-murder and torture their own people? You never hear a peep out of Rome about that. Why does the Church declare women who have abortions excommunicated but not these Catholic dictators? Why didn’t it condemn the Irish Catholics in the IRA murdering Protestants? Why doesn’t it cry out against the Catholic Mafia? Why doesn’t it stop taking money from gangsters and burying them as Catholics in good standing? Why don’t we hear the Church crying out against the scourge of child-beating and wife-beating, anti-Semitism and other bigotry, drugs, sweat shops, union-busting, exploiting undocumented migrant workers, and so forth? Why don’t we hear it preaching against slander and character assassination? Why is it obsessed instead with just gays and women who have abortions?
The answer is obvious. The Church points the finger at others only for “sins” of which IT is guilty. This deflects attention for those sins off itself and onto others. Damage repair for the Church’s image. Not to mention misdirection like that of the teacher in the example above.
The Church goes to great lengths to portray an image of itself as our “holy mother,” virtually fusing its image with that of Jesus’ mother. The harping on abortion is just part of that act. All this holy motherhood posturing tends to make us forget what Holy Mother Church has done to her own children.
Recall how truculently she has waded through her children by the tens of thousands throughout history. She aborted the lives of countless of her children — throughout the 900 years of the episcopal and monastic inquisitions and now by allowing predatory priests and other religious to sexually prey on countless more of her children. She has stonewalled justice, intimidated victims who seek it, and protected criminals — spiriting them off to Rome or to a distant school or parish for a fresh set of unsuspecting prey.
And to be fair, the Catholic Church certainly isn’t the only religious institution guilty of using the pointed finger for misdirection to get our attention off its own sins and act like the opposite of what its conduct makes it. In fact, it does at least have something officially on record against many other evils: religious preachers of other denominations don’t even seem to know that the other great evils exist.
Paul was in line with the ancient Hebrew scriptures. Scripture has a name for the spirit in which people point the finger at someone crying, “Look what they’re doing! It’s evil!” The name of that spirit is satan, which means the “finger-pointer,” the “name-slayer” (slanderer, character assassin), the “prosecutor/persecutor,” or the “accuser.” In some places (e.g., the Book of Job) they also call this spirit “the policer of the world.”
So, projection is everywhere.
The worst thing about it is that mud sticks best to a clean spot.
I’m sure that people who do this think they’re clever, but it’s childsplay. Send a muddy child into an unsupervised schoolyard and wait to see what happens. He will rub himself off on every cleaner, smaller child he can find, until they are all crying and he looks good by comparison.
Looks good by comparison. Those are the all-important words. The hypocrite makes himself look good by comparison with others. He does that the easy way — by smearing himself off on others to make them look bad. This is the root of envy. Which is NOT a rare motive for what people say about others. It’s an all-too-common motive.